WEEK 95 — October 26, 2016



week 95


Men! Men! : Deborah the Prophetess


Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. . . . Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Judges 4:4, 8

When I was a child, we never heard the word “feminist.” We didn’t know any feminists in those days. Yet we did know plenty of females who made it plain what they thought about males — sometimes males in general, sometimes one particular male.

In past years when a woman didn’t think much of a man, she was usually too wise to attack him head-on with harsh criticism. Instead, she often employed the saving grace of humor. Did Deborah the Prophetess have that same tendency toward teasing, as she put in their place some of the men she knew?

Deborah was unusual in Old Testament times: She was a married woman, yet she obviously wasn’t under the thumb of her husband. He is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures only as her spouse; she’s the one who gets all the attention in the ancient narrative. Maybe Lappidoth, Deborah’s husband, was a weakling. Maybe on the other hand he was such a strong character that he didn’t feel threatened when his wife showed signs of God-given leadership.

But the famous story told in the Book of Judges isn’t about Deborah and Lappidoth: It’s about Deborah and Barak. And Barak was definitely a man who showed signs of weakness. For one thing, he didn’t like the thought of tackling a big job alone. You can tell that by reading the verses quoted above.

Deborah the Prophetess responded to Barak’s plaintive plea for support. She gladly went with him when he called the hosts of Israel into battle against their foes. Yet she warned Barak that neither he nor any other man would get the credit for the victory which God was planning to give them. “Because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman” (Judges 4:9).

Sisera was the commanding general of the enemy host. He, too, seems to have leaned upon a woman for support, judging from the jeering reference to Sisera’s mother in the great paean of victory that was sung after the battle was won (see Judges 5:28-30).

The woman Deborah was referring to, the one who would be honored in place of Barak, was not Deborah herself but rather another married woman: Jael, wife of Heber. Jael murdered General Sisera when he stopped to rest from the rout; read Judges 4:17-22 if you’ve forgotten about Sisera’s grisly end.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation assumes that Deborah, like many another wise woman before and since, knew well enough how to employ a wry sense of humor as she put males in their place:

Men! Men! Would they ever move
without a woman as motivator?
Maybe so, but I suspect
it wouldn’t happen till some time later.
Barak, for example now.
A good man, Barak, well equipped to lead.
Yet until I’d pushed him hard,
he wouldn’t move; he wouldn’t meet the need.
Even then he wouldn’t go
unless I went. I gave him fair warning:
“Who’ll get the credit? Women, . . .
when all of us shout, come victory morning.”

Men! Men! Folks say that even
great Sisera, mighty captain of our foes,
has a mother; she tells him
what he should do, and everything he knows.
When the day of battle came,
still our Barak stayed, wouldn’t take the field,
until I shouted, “Barak!
Now lead the charge! For soon our foes will yield.”
Sisera? O, he lost it all.
He ran, O yes! But still he couldn’t hide.
In Jael’s tent he rested,
and nailed by Jael’s tent-peg, there he died.

Men! Men! Do they realize?
Do they ever know how much they owe us?
Never mind. Give God the praise.
I’ve never been one to make a big fuss.

O God of families, bless all the women who do the work . . . even if someone else gets the credit. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 94 — October 19, 2016



week 94


Rahab, Who Lived on the Wall


The men said to her [Rahab], “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down.”
Judges 2:17-18

Rahab was a risk-taker. According to the traditional interpretation, Rahab practiced what has been called “woman’s oldest profession.” Any streetwalker can tell you that that’s a risky way to make a living.

Yet Rahab wasn’t really a streetwalker: She had a house — a house of ill repute — on the city wall of Jericho. At least one recent translation of the Scriptures  suggests that Rahab might in fact have been an innkeeper. Considering how disreputable inns were in Bible times, the one occupation may not have been that much more respectable than the other. And Rahab would still have been a risk-taker: Who knew which hotel guest might try to fudge on his bill? Who knew which one might turn drunk and disorderly and smash up the furniture?

Rahab took an even greater risk than usual one day when two Hebrew spies slipped into Jericho. Later on she claimed that she didn’t know where they had come from, but she was lying to save her own skin and theirs: She knew quite well who they were. It was the talk of all Jericho, how these newcomers had somehow managed to escape from Egypt, cross the sea, cross the desert, and defeat mighty kings. And somehow Rahab, the woman of questionable reputation, had figured out that these miraculous events had been accomplished by the mighty God of the Hebrews.

Risk-takers are not your dreamy-eyed idealists. Any risk-taker has to have a strong streak of practicality. When the hue and cry was raised for the Hebrew spies, Rahab hid them among the stalks of flax that were drying on her roof. She made up a plausible tale to send the king’s messengers on a wild-goose chase.

Then she made a deal with the spies: She had saved their necks, so she expected them to save hers. The terms of the arrangement are referred to briefly in the Bible verses quoted above.

After the two spies had slid down the scarlet cord and disappeared into the night, do you suppose Rahab ever had second thoughts? A careful reading of the first chapters of the Book of Judges indicates that it was several weeks after that spying mission before Joshua led his troops to surround the walls of Jericho.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation puts us inside the mind of Rahab during those anxious weeks of waiting. Remember that this hard-nosed woman of the world, this consummate risk-taker, later lived through the general destruction of Jericho — and she managed to rescue all of her extended family along with her. Still later, she married one of those victorious Hebrews . . . and become an earthly ancestor of Jesus the Christ.

I’ve always lived here on the wall;
location means much in my trade.
So when those two spies came to Jericho town,
I’ll tell you the bargain we made.

My house-top is always the place
where flax stalks are spread out to dry.
So that’s where I hid those two fellows, while I
made up a believable lie.

The king’s men came up to my door;
I fooled them and sent them away.
So then I must fashion a means of escape
for those I had hidden that day.

I got out my best scarlet cord;
I tied it and let it hang down,
so they could slide down it and over the wall.
I shared what I’d heard down in town:

“I know that your God is supreme;
we’ve heard the great wonders he’s done.
So when you come back with your conquering host,
please give my clan somewhere to run.”

They swore they would do as I asked.
That red cord is hanging there yet.
So now it’s been weeks, and I’m asking myself:
Could they have forgotten their debt?

Lord Jesus, you took an even greater risk than your gutsy female ancestor once did, when you came down into this hostile world. Thank you. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 93 — October 12, 2016



week 93


The Midwives of Goshen


God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Exodus 1:20-21

“Land o’ Goshen!”

Sometimes in my childhood I would hear country folks use that mild and rather old-fashioned expletive.

Did you know there was a real land of Goshen? In the Bible-based meditation that follows, I have used poetic license in referring to “Goshen town.” No doubt there were towns in Goshen, but the term “Goshen” itself designated a whole area. It was that part of ancient Egypt assigned as a home for a group of resident aliens known as Hebrews.

Among those foreigners there were two women, Shiphrah and Puah by name, who worked as midwives. In ancient times (as in more isolated cultures of today), working as a midwife or a “granny woman” offered one of the few opportunities for an enterprising woman to become anything beyond an ordinary housewife.

The king (or Pharaoh) of Egypt was facing a problem. His royal ancestors had granted residence rights to the Hebrew people. Now the Hebrew population was growing so fast that Pharaoh was worried about the security of his realm. He feared that the ever-increasing Hebrews might even try to seize control from the native-born Egyptians.

As a first step toward staving off this dire possibility, the king called in Shiphrah and Puah. “When you go on the job in the land of Goshen,” he commanded them, “let the girl babies be born as usual. But make sure all the boy babies die.” King Pharaoh knew that such draconian measures would bring the Hebrews’ population explosion to a halt by the time another generation had grown to maturity.

But the midwives of Goshen had ideas of their own. They feared God. They recognized murder when they heard about it. And they secretly disobeyed the king’s stark command.

Fears about resident aliens greatly increasing in numbers, . . . choices as to which child will live and which child will die . . . . Does any of this sound eerily modern?

Read on.

The first chapter of Exodus tells how the midwives of Goshen resorted to what might be called a white lie in order to justify their civil disobedience. Maybe it was a half-truth rather than a white lie: Maybe expectant Hebrew women really did spend less time in labor than expectant Egyptian women. (In recent films about ancient times, have you ever watched an expectant mother taking her place on the birthing stool?)

The following Bible-based poetic meditation imaginatively goes inside the minds of Shiphrah and Puah as they try to figure out how they can be true to God and yet at the same time deal with an unchangeable royal decree.

The verses quoted above tell the happy ending to their story.

The Hebrews breed in multitudes;
they soon will fill the land.
So we must try to stay their growth,
by Pharaoh’s dread command.

Our calling is to bring forth life;
how can we bring forth death?
Each baby born in Goshen has
the right to draw first breath.

Dare we evade the king’s command?
What answer can we give?
Can we leave Hebrew boys alive,
and we ourselves yet live?

Do Pharaoh and his council know
how quickly birth takes place?
We’ll say, “Each Hebrew woman bears
before we see her face!”

Will God bless those who tell a lie?
We’ll have to risk God’s frown.
God, give us growing families
like those in Goshen town!

Dear Lord and Father who loves all the children of the world, be kind to all of those who bring children into the world . . . especially those who know and fear God. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 92 — October 5, 2016



week 92


What Jesus Said About Children


People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:15-17

Many years ago I heard a noted child psychologist make a shocking statement: “When you get past all the sentimental twaddle, most people don’t really like children.”

Think about it. Was he speaking the truth? If he was, can you verbalize the reasons why so many people do not really care to have children around them very often?

•  Children are noisy.
•  Children are dirty.
•  Children are often inconvenient and embarrassing.
•  Children are often unpredictable, unreliable, unreasonable.

Yet — what would the world be without children! In a very real sense, the world would soon be bereft of all human habitation if there were no more children. (Ask the grieving parents of Hamelin in Robert Browning’s famous poem about the Pied Piper!)

Long before we had children of our own, three young siblings once rode the bus from far back in the hills of Kentucky to pay us a visit. We delighted to see their enjoyment of everyday things about living in the city. As Ray lolled in a warm bathtub, he volunteered, “This is fun!” Bettie and Stella raced to answer the telephone. All three of them ran up our water bill, just to see and feel the stuff come gushing out hot or cold without having to prime the pump or heat the kettle.

How much greater must be God’s delight when his children enjoy the blessings he has prepared for them! Yet . . . how sad it is that so many people living today are casting their votes against having more children in the world.

•  They do it by birth control.
•  They do it by abortion.
•  They do it by condemning millions of children to live on the streets and in the sewers of our cities, vulnerable to vice and crime and police death squads.
•  They do it by condemning millions more children to die young of preventable or treatable diseases.

When my own grandmother gave birth yet again in 1883, she might have been excused for thinking that enough was enough. After all, she already had three boisterous little ones of her own, plus three beloved stepchildren whose mother had died when they were tiny.

Yet my grandmother welcomed each child, loving each one individually. And when the little boy born to her in 1883 died only a few weeks later, she truly mourned for him. When that pitifully little coffin was taken to the church, she asked her pastor to read from Malachi the Prophet: “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Malachi 4:17, King James Version).

Whatever the original meaning of those ancient words, my grandmother firmly believed that they could be applied to God’s love and care for her little son. More than likely she was influenced by a familiar children’s hymn of that day:

“When He cometh, when He cometh to make up His jewels,
all His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own:
Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.
Little children, little children who love their Redeemer,
are the jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.” 

(George F. Root; in the public domain)

Long before my grandmother’s time, Jesus also welcomed little children — into the world, and into his arms. The famous verses quoted above from Luke chapter 18 vividly portray Jesus’ attitude toward children.

In Luke chapter 17, Jesus also had some chilling words to say about those who don’t treat children right: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:1bc-2).

In the Bible-based poetic meditation that follows, Jesus’ famous words of welcome for children recorded in Luke 18:15-17 have been paraphrased. Read them prayerfully:

Let the children come to Me.
Do not stop them: Let them be.
Let them know My love for them;
each one is my precious gem.

Let the children come to Me,
come into God’s Family.
Children of all ages must
learn to love and learn to trust.

Let the children come to Me.
All of you must children be,
ready to receive My rule
like a child who goes to school.

Let the children come to Me:
I will love them tenderly.
Love Me like a child, and see:
You’ll be Mine eternally.

O Master and Redeemer, help me to receive God’s Kingdom as a little child! Then help me also to welcome all of your other children. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas